Matthew Horsley and Sebastian Payne MW continue their Italian voyage of discovery, taking in the beautiful Bricco Rosso (red hill) and plenty of truffles!
Continuing on our trip through the hills of Barolo, we get to taste some real stars of the vintage as well as head into neighbouring Dogliani. Oh, and you can't come here and not mention the truffles…that would be wrong!
After many years in the planning, Silvano Bolmida's new winery is well underway
Monforte d'Alba – a commune known for its power and tannins thanks to sharing the majority of its soil with Serralunga. Also home to the cru of Bussia where the wines show the power of Serralunga with the fragrance of La Morra.
A friendly dog in the winery
Silvano Bolmida is on the Bussia hill (known for its tortonian soil giving wines of power and fragrance) just north of Monforte d'Alba. There was some serious commotion going on when we arrived. Those of you who read Sebastian Payne's Travels in Wine report from Barolo last year may remember him talking about Silvano going through many years of planning permission in order to build a new winery… well you'll be delighted to hear that planning permission was finally granted (after three years) and his new winery is well underway. As you can probably see (above) it's a huge undertaking but is set (apparently) to be finished in time for 2019 harvest. We wish him every luck with that.
We then ventured to the other side of Monforte d'Alba to Paulo Conterno located way up in the hills to the north-east of the town, on the east-facing slope of Ginestra. This area of Monforte is famed for its iron and chalk-rich soil that provides some of Barolo's most powerful and robust wine. If I had any doubts that Barolos from La Morra tasted differently to those from Monforte d'Alba and Serralunga they were firmly put to bed when I tasted their Ginestra… a wine of immense power, tannin and acidity. The 2015 was the best of the three vintages we tasted but was already tucked up for a very, very, long sleep!
Bricco Boschis vineyard
Castiglione Falletto – located pretty much in the middle of the Barolo Zone and home to the legendary Monprivato hill – a monopole (a single vineyard in the sole ownership of one grower) owned by Giuseppe Mascarello. Typically produces quite fruit-forward wines whilst retaining bracing tannin and structure.
On our final day we visited Cantina Cavallotto and their famous Bricco Boschis vineyard, on the other side of the Monprivato hill. The cantina is run today by fourth-generation brothers Guiseppe and Alfio together with their sister Laura. We were joined initially by the utterly charming Giuseppe who showed us around the winery and the family's beautiful Bricco Boschis vineyard – a private amphitheatre right outside their house, equipped with garden chair where Giuseppe's father would sit and look out over his vines. Giuseppe's brother, Alfio conducted the tasting with great enthusiasm in this unique environment.
The style of Cavallotto was new to me and reminded me in a way of Rioja's López de Heredia; wines that are old-school (in the best possible way) with hints of oxidative ageing to produce these outrageously stylish, complex wines – the best of which will drink for decades. The wine may be 'old-school' here at Cantina Cavallotto but their ethos is anything but; they're inspirationally forward thinking whilst retaining what makes Cavallotto special: for example they were one of the first vineyards to take up organic viticulture and now no longer use copper sulphate (a treatment permitted under organic guidelines). Instead they use a concoction of herbs and water to spray their vineyards and guard against fungus, something that is painstakingly time consuming.
When it came to the tasting there were two shining lights for me – their Langhe Nebbiolo 2016 (2016 is looking like another fantastic year – especially for nebbiolo and barbaresco), and their Bricco Boschis 2015 – a dark, rich Barolo with big sweet tannins and a savoury truffle and liquorice flavours.
Steep vineyards in Serralunga
Serralunga d'Alba – In the south-east of the region where you'll find the firmest and most structured of the Barolos thanks to the ancient iron and chalk soils found here and home to crus such as Falletto, Vigna Rionda, La Serra and Ornato.
Our last visit was back in the heart of Serralunga d'Alba at Massolino – one of the most beautiful houses in the region. Walking past as you leave the centre of town you could have been transported to Venice – a stunning town house with shuttered windows, balconies and tiled roof. Inside it's more like a Bond Villain's lair – there's even a concealed spiral staircase… And underneath the house, cut out of the hill, is the entire winery with barrel rooms, bottling plant and distribution centre, all in the basement!
The tasting was conducted by family member and owner, Roberto Massolino, and featured a delicious Barbera d'Alba 2017, 2015 Barolo Classico (potentially the best straight Barolo we tried) and a fascinating flight of four of their single-vineyard Barolos – Marghera, Parafada, Parussi and Vigna Rionda. The Marghera was sublime with fine, chalky claret-like tannins and stylish perfume; the Parafada was fuller, chunkier with darker fruit and more weight; Parussi is immensely compact, with a mineral backbone thanks to the high percentage of iron in the soils and Vigna Rionda was powerful and packed with savoury leather and meaty aromas.
Our trip wasn't just centred on Barolo, we were lucky enough to spend half a day in Dogliani, about 30 minutes south of Barolo town, firstly at the beautifully picturesque Poderi Luigi Einaudi (complete with wine bottle-shaped pool!) where we were joined by the fabulous Lorenza. Dogliani is a region of Piemont that specialises in the dolcetto grape, or 'little sweet one' as it's known in Italian thanks to its often low levels of acidity and high natural sugar levels. The Dogliani Dolcetto 2017 was (for me) the best dolcetto we tried all week. However, the wine that really surprised me was the 2017 Langhe Barbera – deep and dense with chocolate and plum and a lick of creamy oak on the nose with barbera's typically feisty acidity and sweet tannin. Einaudi also had arguably the finest line-up of 2015 Barolos of the trip, too, including their Barolo Terlo Vigna Costa Grimaldi packed with sweet spice and blood-orange bitterness; their first vintage from their new Bussia vineyard filled with rich fruit and plenty of power; and their Cannubi – their most intense and structured wine that will greatly reward those with patience.
Luigi Einaudi's famous Cannubi vineyard in the summer sunshine - Piedmont
It was a short drive south to our next stop, Manfredi on the incredible Bricco Rosso (red hill) which offers an incredible view of the northern Alps as they wind their way around the north-west of Italy in to the Apennines. This prominent hill is home to the deliciously user friendly Bricco Rosso Suagnà Langhe Rosso – a mellow and savoury blend of dolcetto and nebbiolo which (in the 2013 vintage) is delicious as ever; a sweet and great-value introduction to the bewitching flavours of nebbiolo for those seeking it.
Before visiting Piedmont I was happy to admit that Barolo was more of a curiosity than a craving – now having seen the perilous slopes and vineyards as far as the eye can see, and tasted the wines that result from them, and having had the opportunity to experience the differences in style between vineyards, side by side and in situ was truly eye-opening.
For the Love of Wine!
One thing that really struck me about Barolo was how much the producers love wine. This seems like a silly thing to say seeing as every man and his dog in the region is a winemaker, but every winery we went to had walls and walls of empty bottles of wine from around the world. I've been lucky enough to visit wineries throughout much of Europe and I don't ever recall a Bordeaux producer wanting to talk about Rioja, or a Spaniard with a passion for Austrian riesling. More than anywhere I've been before the Piedmontese's love of wine – of all wine – was amazing. It's their life, their love and their laughter – happy to discuss what they love about wine as a whole – and it was incredibly refreshing and will be my lasting memory from an amazing trip.
For the Love of Food!
Tajarin – the thin, rich pasta of Piedmont
You can't visit Piedmont in autumn without talking food, specifically, truffles. Every restaurant (apart from one particular restaurant in Barolo that we won't talk about!) is filled with the scent of white truffle at this time of year – it's impossible to avoid; as is the proclamation from all Piedmontese on how superior the area's truffles are to those of Tuscany and La Marche. After all, Alba does host Italy's largest truffle festival! Case closed, I guess. If one thing was for certain, however, it is that I was 90% tajarin by the end of the week!
For the Love of the Vintage
It was clear from the first tasting with the fabulous Nadia Curto that the hype around the 2015 vintage is well deserved – the wines are beautifully sweet with fantastic structure, balance and typicity, all showcasing their respective styles and vineyards. The 2016s are looking equally smart with both vintages providing fabulous Langhe Nebbiolo – one of the world's most undervalued wines – as well as Barolo proper.
Where to go next?